The Female World Record--Part 1 ("The Opening")

Apr 20, 2010, 9:22 AM |

When she was only eight years old, Cassandra Aragon declared, “I want to be a chess world-record holder.

An only child, Cassandra was the pride of both parents and unquestionably bright. Cassandra reached her key developmental milestones very early: she could stack up eight blocks when she was only two, could play “Chopsticks” on the piano when she was only three (alas, no musical compositions of her own before age six), and spoke in six-word sentences by three-and-a-half. Her mother reveled in bragging to her friends about her daughter.

Even as a child Cassandra looked as ominous as her Greek namesake. She had coal-black, board-stiff hair (which defied her mother’s desire for ringlets), piercing black eyes, and from the womb was lanky and angular. Her long, claw-like fingers even attracted the OB/GYN’s notice in the delivery room. When her father first taught her chess at age five (or tried to), he pointed out to his wife how confidently those fingers grasped the pieces.

So, when Cassandra declared her intention to become a chess world-record holder, no one thought much about it, except that she was just a girl and even after three years of study still did not understand how to move a knight.

Cassandra’s parents, though, were convinced her precociousness signaled future genius and immediately hired a chess tutor for her. From then on, each Halloween, they dressed her as the chess queen. Her father played games with her every evening and always let her "win" (as he called it). For Christmas and birthdays they bought her fanciful chess sets and chess clocks of all sorts. They even bought an oversized, plastic set for the backyard so she could pretend to be the Through-the-Looking-Glass Red Queen and shout “Off with your head!” to the neighborhood children.

When Cassandra was nine, her parents began to take her to observe tournaments. Although she still had not mastered the moves, she loved to sit for hours among the spectators and stare at the overhead TVs as the players moved their pieces. Occasionally her father would bend over and whisper in her ear, “Clever move,” or “That was a blunder.” Little Cassandra would always nod her head solemnly, even though she did not have the proverbial clue about what was going on.

To be continued . . .